Black, Holly. 2015. The Darkest Part of the Forest. New York: Little, Brown and Company.
In this charming fantasy story, teen siblings Hazel and Ben negotiate romantic relationships, magical bargains, and pending adulthood in the dual worlds of Fairfold and Faerie.
Fairfold is different from anywhere else. While it boasts the modern appliances and technologies of the rest of the country, it also has a haunted forest full of fae ruled by the cruel Alderking. The townsfolk live side by side with the fae, leaving out bowls of milk and keeping iron in their pockets to protect themselves. For the most part, the fae prey only on tourists, leaving the townsfolk alone. But there is a horror in the deepest part of the forest, a monster that feeds on sorrow.
Hazel and Ben grew up with artist parents who eschewed “normalcy” like regular meals and bedtimes. Although they were benignly neglected, their childhoods were exciting and fun. They spent a lot of time in the forest, imagining themselves to be loyal knights of a faerie prince. One day, though, a real faerie prince comes to them, and at the same moment, the monster in the darkest part of the forest is loosed upon the town.
Readers who love folklore will enjoy this story. These faeries are the fae of older tales, cruel and beautiful at the same time. This is not just a faerie fantasy tale, though; two romance stories blossom throughout the story. Hazel learns to shed her insecurities and open her heart to a friend she’s long been drawn to. And Ben, who is gay and out, finds love with a faerie he has dreamed of his whole life. Although the story is told from Hazel’s perspective, Ben is a strong secondary character with an interesting narrative arc and compelling romantic development.
I recommend this book to readers who enjoy YA fantasy and romance novels.